- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Soprano soloist Helen Boatwright, who championed the performance of American song and recorded the first full-length album of songs by composer Charles Ives, has died.

Boatwright celebrated her 94th birthday on Nov. 17. Her family said she was still teaching until three weeks before her death Wednesday, and the final piece of music she listened to was the last soprano aria of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Boatwright was celebrated for singing the music of American composers such as Ives and her husband, Howard Boatwright. In 1954, she became the first person to record a full-length album of Ives’ songs, “24 Songs” with pianist John Kirkpatrick. She also studied with composer Normand Lockwood, who helped shape her philosophy that singers had a responsibility to perform and promote contemporary music.

Born Helena Johanna Strassburger in 1916, she was the youngest of six children in a large music-loving German family from Sheboygan, Wis. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Oberlin College.

Her operatic debut was as Anna in an English-language production of Otto Nicolai’s “Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor” at Tanglewood in Massachusetts. During her career, she worked with luminaries in the world of music, including conductors Leopold Stokowski, Erich Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa and Zubin Mehta. She also performed with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in the early 1940s, sang opposite tenor Mario Lanza in his operatic stage debut, and performed for President John F. Kennedy in the East Room of the White House in 1963.

Boatwright met her future husband, violinist Howard Boatwright, in an elevator in Los Angeles in 1941 when they were to perform in a National Federation of Music Clubs competition. They married two years later and performed together throughout their lives in the United States, Mexico, Europe, and India. Many of her husband’s compositions for voice were written for her.

In 1964, Howard Boatwright became the dean of the Syracuse University School of Music, and in 1969 the couple established a university-sponsored summer program, L’Ecole Hindemith in Vevey, Switzerland, where they taught and performed every summer until 1988. He died in 1999.

Helen Boatwright taught at Syracuse University, Connecticut College, was a professor of voice at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester from 1972-79, and served as a guest professor at Cornell University and the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University.

In 2003, Syracuse University presented Boatwright with an honorary doctor of music degree.

Even in her 90s, Boatwright continued to learn new music. For her 90th birthday in 2006, she celebrated with a solo concert at a local church.

Boatwright is survived by two sons and a daughter. The funeral will be held Dec. 8 at at St. David’s Episcopal Church in DeWitt, a Syracuse suburb.



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